Records sales increase for 16th consecutive year, surpass CDs for first time since 1987

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Mar. 18—TUPELO — When Leslie Jones opened Rock Star Records in 2015, he was taking a bit of gamble. He didn't know if selling vinyl records and CDs would work.

Vinyl records were on the upswing, but would sales sustain themselves with the ever-changing tastes of listeners?

Eight years later, the answer seems to be a resounding, "Yes."

According to the Recording Industry Association of America's annual report, sales for vinyl records increased for the 16th consecutive year. And in 2022, they outsold CDs in the U.S. for the first time since 1987, selling 41 million units against 33 million for CDs.

"It started out here where there was more interest in used vinyl and people used to come in with buckets of vinyl asking if I wanted to buy like three trunks of them," Jones said. "Now, it's a struggle for record stores to keep used vinyl because everybody is holding onto them."

Classic rock albums are the hottest sellers, and as a nod to those buyers — and perhaps a bit of subliminal messaging — Jones keeps classic rock playing in the background.

With the resurgence in used vinyl demand, sales of new vinyl also has risen.

"Younger listeners — teenagers, college-age, young and married — like new, whereas the older listeners like used," Jones said. "They'll come in here and go through everything for hours and hours."

Physical music formats saw a resurgence in 2021 during the pandemic. That continued last year, as total physical revenue grow 4%. Sales for vinyl records jumped 17% to $1.2 billion, accounting for 71% of physical music format revenue. Sales for CDs, however, fell 18%.

"People are buying vinyl because it just sounds better," Jones said, echoing many who say the format provides a warmer, deeper sound than CDs or streaming. "And back during COVID, when people were all crunched together and staying at home, everybody was buying vinyl. It was like Christmas everyday around here."

Younger buyers also appreciate the artwork on the albums, much like the generation before them. And it's not unusual to see some of the "older listeners" — think Boomers and Gen X — bringing in children and grandchildren to find vinyl.

RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier, in a post on Medium, said last year's numbers show that vinyl is "cementing its role as a fixture of the modern music marketplace."

"Music lovers clearly can't get enough of the high-quality sound and tangible connection to artists vinyl delivers," Glazier said, "and labels have squarely met that demand with a steady stream of exclusives, special reissues, and beautifully crafted packages and discs."

As a whole, recorded music sales in the U.S. in 2022 continued to grow for the seventh consecutive year, with total revenue growing 6% to a record $15.9 billion. Streaming comprised 84% of all sales as it grew 7% to $13.3 billion, with record levels in paid subscriptions, continued growth in ad-supported format revenue and growing contributions from new platforms and services.

As trends come and go, and Jones said music format preferences haven't been immune.

"When I first opened, it was CDs first, then used vinyl, then new vinyl," he said. "Then it went used vinyl, CDs and new vinyl. And now it new vinyl by two country miles, used vinyl and CDs are now last."

And just as supply chain issues have touched businesses in virtually every industry in the last couple of years, the vinyl industry also has been affected.

"Used to when something was released on a Friday and you can in on Tuesday and wanted it, we could order it and it would arrive by Friday," Jones said. "Now we're pre-ordering three or four months ahead of time. I'm ordering for July and August right now ... there just aren't enough pressing plants to keep up with demand. So amidst all the good news about a resurgence of vinyl records, there's that."

As for what type of music is most popular at Rock Star Records, it's classic rock, which is in Jones' wheelhouse.

"It's what I grew up on in the 70s and 80s," Jones said, as Boston's "Don't Look Back," followed by John Mellencamp's "Hurt So Good," played in the background.